Tuesday, December 31, 2019

12/31/19: Endings and Beginnings

The last day of and exciting and sometimes exhausting 2019. Herman and I made three big trips this year, including a blowout trip to South America—Peru, Chile, Patagonia, and Argentina; we walked another 800 kilometers across northern Spain; and topped it off with a magnificent trek through central Bhutan and central India. Travel-wise, it was one of our most memorable years. And all that travel overshot our yearly budget by 100%. Ouch. 

Our one disappointment this year was the death of Herman’s father, Lincoln Chin, in November. He passed while we were traveling and we couldn’t make it back for the service. Fortunately, we knew it was coming so Herman made time with dad and said his goodbyes before we left for Thailand. Still, it became a punch in the gut when we received word. 

In reviewing my 2019 resolutions and stated goals, I found I failed miserably to achieve any but a few. I made progress on all of them, but came up short. The two goals I achieved was walking the Camino across Spain and refocusing my writing from fiction to writing in my journal. So, I’m now feeling like a failure, but am resolved to make each one happen this year. I will turn this failure into success. 

Tonight, we are hosting our annual surf and turf dinner party with Ben Wong, Jim and Rob, and Donny and Mark. Looking forward to catching up will all of them and ringing in the New Year with old friends. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

12/29/19: Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

As the Civil Rights Movement begins to heat up in the American South, two African American teenagers are sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida. What transforms for them there binds them to each other, and will affect everything they do, think, and dream of for the rest of their lives. 

The Nickel Academy juvenile reformatory was billed as providing physical, intellectual, and moral training to troubled young men. Instead, it was a nightmare. This is a raw tale of survival. The characters are fictional, but the Nickel Academy and the horrors committed there are real. 

Their daddies taught them how to keep a slave in line, passed down this brutal heirloom. Take him away from his family, whip him until all he remembers is the whip, chain him up so all he knows is chains. A term in an iron sweatbox, cooking his brain in the sun, had a way of bringing a buck around, and so did a dark cell, a room aloft in darkness, outside time.
After the Civil War, when a five-dollar fine for a Jim Crow charge—vagrancy, changing employers without permission, “bumptious contact,” what have you—swept black men and women up into the maw of debt labor, the white sons remembered the family lore. Dug pits, forged bars, forbid the nourishing face of the sun. The Florida Industrial School for Boys wasn’t in operation six months before they converted the third-floor storage closets into solitary confinement. One of the handy men went dorm by dorm, screwing in bolts: there. The dark cells remained in use even after two locked-up boys died in the fire of ’21. The sons held the old ways close.
The state outlawed dark cells and sweatboxes in juvenile facilities after World War II. It was a time of high-minded reform all over, even at Nickel. But the rooms waited, blank and still and airless. They waited for wayward boys in need of an attitude adjustment. They wait still, as long as the sons—and the sons of those sons—remember.  

This novel is brilliant in every way a novel can be brilliant. The writing is impeccable, creating a voice that is both powerful and haunting. The characters are fully realized. The story is dark, extraordinary, imaginative, and heartbreaking. More than once I felt like I’d been punched in the gut, yet I couldn’t put it down. I loved and hated this story. This is a brave and needed book written by a rare talent at the top of his game. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

12/28/19 Procrastination

Spending a quiet morning trying to get motivated to return to writing fiction. I’ve have a story half-written that I put on the shelf a few months back, letting it simmer in my head while I trekked across Bhutan and India. I’ve been back home three weeks and I keep avoiding returning to the story. It’s not writer’s block. It is purely a motivation issue. I’m content to read other authors’ works rather than put my nose to the grindstone and craft my own tale. This is something I’ve not experienced since I began writing twenty years ago. Hopefully as the new year dawns, so will my impetus.

Had a slow day yesterday because of too much wine consumption the night before. I was, however, feeling fine by the time Herman and I joined our closest friends for dinner at John Henry’s restaurant. When we first moved to Palm Springs John Henry’s was my favorite dinner spot. But two years ago the ownership changed hands and the food/service quality took a nose dive. It has gotten so bad that last night will be the last they see of me. I’ve grown tired of being disappointed by them. 

Insight of the Day: Things change. You accept it, adjust, and move on. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

12/25/19: Christmas Day

Herman and I enjoyed Christmas cheer and a lovely ham dinner last night at Jason and John’s home. We began the evening’s celebration at Mike and John’s house with cocktails and snacks with several of our closest friends, and then swung by our home to pick up Trek before going to J&J’s dinner party. 

We had a delightful thirty minutes chatting with J&J before their neighbors joined us, Earl and Will. From that point on, the evening took a turn. Earl was quiet and seemed an attentive listener, content to suck on is vodka while letting the conversation run its course. His partner, Will, became Earl’s exact opposite. Will took over the conversation to the extent nobody could get a word in edgewise. Will was extremely Australian, somewhat drunk, and after twenty minutes was very annoying. By the time we sat down to dinner all I wanted was to wolf down some food and leave. 

This was the first party that our hosts extended an invitation to include Trek, and he became the centerpiece of the conversation, charming everyone. Indeed, for the first hour Will could talk of nothing but everything he knew about dogs. 

In spite of Will holding court, Herman and I did enjoy ourselves. J&J were amusing and the dinner was delicious. We have become much closer to J&J over the past year, and we really enjoy their company. And I have to admit I loved spending Christmas Eve at two homes that went all out with Christmas decorations—decked out trees, tinsel and balls, carols. It was all lovely. Herman and I have never put up a tree or made any kind of holiday fuss. We don’t even exchange gifts. So to spend a few hours surrounded by Christmas cheer was like taking a step back into childhood. 

Today is the calm between the storms. In the last few weeks we’ve attended a dozen parties, events, and dinners. The holiday season has kept us busy almost every day. But today we have no plans. Today is a rest day, because tomorrow Ben Wong arrives. That means eight days of nonstop dinner parties and outings. So today we will rest and enjoy being together in our home. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

12/24/19: Christmas Eve

Today, Christmas Eve, marks Herman and my eighth anniversary living in our Palm Springs home. This begs a moment of reflection, a moment of looking back. But to be honest, these eight years flew by at warp speed, so much so that looking back is difficult, other than to smile and sigh contentedly. It seems only a few winters ago we showed up here with a truck full of wall art and a car crammed with camping gear. That camping gear became our only furnishings for the first two weeks in this house because the movers didn’t deliver all our home furnishings until January 7th. I guess they didn’t want to work near the holidays.  That was fine by us. It gave us two weeks to paint walls, wax floors, and clean every nook and cranny before we filled the house with our junk. And we were so happy to be here that we didn’t mind camping in an empty house. It was a new adventure, and it felt like we were starting out with nothing—no possessions, no history, nothing weighing us down or slowing our steps—but each other and the love we shared. 

So many things changed for us after our move to Palm Springs. I sometimes think that my life began that day we moved into this house with our air mattress and sleeping bags. It felt like everything that came before was a preparation, a time in a womb to teach and prepare me for this birth into my happy years. And I think the biggest change for me as been the steady decline of my striving to become a popular writer. It could be this house, this city, or simply old age, but I’ve become comfortable with who I am and what I’ve accomplished in my sixty-six years of striving. I’ve come to the truth that I don’t need to publish more books or make more money or become better known. I don’t need to entertain people with my stories. I don’t need to do anything other than be a loving husband and a caring human being. That’s enough. That idea is what I carry into our ninth year in this house. What I’ve done, what I am, is enough.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book Review: The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith

Book Review: The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith
Publisher: Arcade (April, 2019)
Pages: 320


Set in 1992 Poland, Jay Porter, an American FBI agent, is asked to assist in a multiple-murder case in Warsaw. He teams up with a gay, African-American, CIA counterpart, Kurt Crawford to investigate three murdered Russians that may have links to stolen nukes. When a fourth Russian body is found, new clues allow Jay to piece together a complex puzzle that involves high-ranking officials, local police, and even Jay Porter’s new Polish love interest. The deeper Jay digs, the more sinister things appear, because all clues point to someone assembling a nuclear bomb capable of wiping out a city and undermining the stability of the entire region. Jay’s biggest problem: he doesn’t know who he can trust.

Smith excels at crafting a post-Cold War Warsaw. The descriptions are vivid and mesmerizing, making the location one of the main characters. The writing was crisp, the dialog spot on, and the plot has all the twists and turns to keep the reader, at least this reader, guessing what will happen next. Indeed, clues and information are doled out in a very tantalizing way.

I found some of the investigative methods and situations implausible, but they did make for an interesting read. My only serious complaint is that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable. I found some rather interesting, which kept me reading to the end, but my lack of attachment in the characters put me at a distance from them, and thus at a distance from the story. That said, it is a complex puzzle that I enjoyed solving.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

12/19/19: Cleaning and Cooking

It’s been a busy day so far. I started off wanting to cook a big pot of Minestrone, and then clean out the shed. That along with spending a few hours writing. But Herman had other plans. While I was reading ten pages of My Life by Bill Clinton (I try to read at least 10 pages each morning after breakfast) Herman began the purge of our kitchen cabinets. I finished my reading quickly so I could help him. I didn’t expect him to clean out much, but was astounded when he began bagging up almost everything in the lower cabinets where we keep all the junk we rarely use. He went from cabinet to cabinet, cleaning out stuff we don’t need. We filled seven shopping bags of stuff to give to Revival. We also trashed a great deal of other stuff that has been taking up space for several years. It because a liberating experience for both us. It felt so good to pare down to only what we need. We have now done this to every room in the house, including our clothes closets. The only thing left to do is our storage shed, and I hope to purge that this afternoon. 

Before we got to the shed, I dug out my Minestrone recipe and my soup pot and got to work chopping and dicing. It’s the first time I’ve made Minestrone, and I had a good recipe as a roadmap, but I was also winging it some. Herman, of course, couldn’t let me do it all my own without butting in. He feels the kitchen is his domain, so any time I make soup, he’s got to contribute, telling me what to add or how to do something. It pisses me off that he can’t just step away and let me manage on my own. But for him, he wants it to be a thing we do together. What he insisted on this time was that we add chopped leeks and sausage to the pot. I didn’t have a problem with either, but I still wish he could back off and let me learn on my own. 

By the way, we each had a bowl for lunch and it was awesome. I’ve loved each of the soups I’ve made so far—split pea, navy bean, lentil—but this Minestrone turned out to be the tastiest yet. It’s not my favorite, but I do think it has more complex flavors than the others. It was so good Herman asked me to make a pot for our New Year’s party feast. For that soup, I want to start it by making my own chicken stock from scratch. I can’t wait. 

The afternoon was spent cleaning out the storage shed. Again, I was shocked at how much we gave to Revival/Goodwill, and how much else we tossed in the garbage. In fact, will filled the container. And we had an unexpected and welcome surprise. Years ago, when we came back from a long vacation we realized that our scuba diving fins, two pair that cost us $200 each, were missing from the outdoor storage box where we keep the pool equipment. We searched everywhere, and when we didn’t find them we assumed that someone had stolen them from our yard while we were away. We felt violated, knowing someone had entered our space and taken our possessions, and we’ve been bitter about that ever since. Every time we go on a long vacation we think about somebody breaking in and stealing our stuff. But the good news is, we found them in a box at the bottom of a pile in the storage shed today. It brightened our spirits, knowing it had been our mistake. We were never violated. The funny part is, that even though we are purging the house of everything we no longer use, and we haven’t been scuba diving in eight years and don’t plan to ever do it again, we were so happy get our fins back that we decided to keep them even though we don’t need them. Ha! We humans are such funny creatures.

Insight of the Day: Sometimes is pays to hold on to things you don’t need, simply because they make you feel good.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

12/18/19: An Historic Day in Washington

Today, the US House of Representatives will vote on impeaching Donald Trump. I’m confidently we will not get the votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office, still I feel pride that the House Democrats are bring this president’s foul behavior to light, and showcasing his misdeeds to the American people. I pray it makes a difference in the upcoming elections, not only for removing Trump from office, but also for removing many of the GOP Trump lackies who are protecting him. We live in interesting times. 

Yesterday Herman and I completed the Purge. We went through every room of the house, every drawer, every closet, and also the garage and the storage shed, and trashed or gave away everything we don’t use on a regular basis. We are now down to only owning things we need. I have no words for how liberating that is. It’s not that we were pack rats, but after eight years of living in this house, we accumulated a ton of stuff we don’t use, need, or want. Now we are down to essentials. I want to make this a yearly event, to purge what we don’t need before the new year arrives. 

Herman and I spent a quiet night at home last night, watching an absurd action movie on Netflix. I think there is a problem with action movies, in that each one has to have more spectacular stunts, more shit being blown up, and more bad guys being killed than any of the previous action movies. And they have gone waaaaaay too far, to the point of being absurd. It’s no longer entertaining, it’s simply ludicrous.

Today I plan to devote this morning to writing, and the afternoon to reading. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Sunday, 12/16/19: Start of a New Week

Yesterday was a do-nothing day. I helped Herman in the yard for a few hours, but didn’t accomplish much more than that. We did watch The King with Timothee Chalamet and Sean Harris. It was outstanding, both in terms of production quality and acting. I was very impressed with Chalamet’s performance. I think this will be a breakthrough film for his career. The film was a little slow going at times, but held my interest and built into an interesting finish where ideals outweigh outcomes. 

This morning, I read a dozen pages of My Life by Bill Clinton, and came across a speech he gave at the 1992 democratic convention that impressed me with its simplicity and eloquence:

Tonight every one of you knows deep in your heart that we are too divided. It is time to heal America. 
And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that bind us. We need each other. All of us, we need each other. We don’t have a person to waste. And yet for too long politicians have told most of us that are doing all right that what’s really wrong with America is the rest of us. Them.

Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor, them the homeless, them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays.

We’ve gotten to where we’ve nearly them’ed ourselves to death. Them and them and them. 

But this is America. There is no them; there is only us. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. That is our Pledge of Allegiance and that’s what the New Covenant is all about….

Somewhere at this very moment, a child is being born in America. Let it be our cause to give that child a happy home, a healthy family, and a hopeful future. Let it be our cause to see that that child has a chance to live to the fullest of her God-given capacities…. Let it be our cause that we give this child a country that is coming together, not coming apart—a country of boundless hopes and endless dreams; a country that once again lifts it’s people and inspires the world. Let that be our cause, our commitment, and our New Covenant. My fellow Americans, I end tonight where it all began for me: I still believe in a place called Hope. God bless you and God bless America. 

Insight of the Day: Simple and eloquent trumps flashy and bombastic every time.